Felicia Simmons and her family have fallen on hard times. Ever since her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent mental decline, the resourceful and kind young woman has labored intensely to maintain her unusual household. Charitable as can be, Felicia collects stray, socially-outcast servants and insists on feeding poor children. She gives up her place in society, teaches music lessons, economizes, and even polishes her own brass doorknob (though so early in the morning that no one on her fashionable street can see her–except for the cynical Sir Christopher Wilde, newly arrived from India).
“Freddy Tyne’s gone and done it, by damn . . . Took him donkey’s years, but his sticky fingers’ll be lightening my purse from now till lilies bloom in hell” (1).
Playboy Valentine North is horrified when his cousin–who has spent his married life in the wilds of Canada–dies, leaving Val two little savages as wards. There’s no way that he’s going let the little monsters upset his comfortable life, and there is no way he’s going to let some sneaky governess trap him into the Parson’s Mousetrap! So, he concocts an outrageous plan: he’ll disguise himself as his own man of business, hire a house and a governess, and wash his hands of the brats. When his band of comrades wager that Val will be incapable of managing the affair and will end up married within a year, he is even more determined to carry out his plan.
Her fiance was tall, dark and handsome. A pity! When she wanted someone witty, kind and gentle.
–Cover Blurb, The Wicked Cousin
Byrony de Beaufre adores her cousin, Sir Lucas Bardine. Growing up on neighboring properties, they spent hours playing in their “castle,” an abandoned hermitage they discovered as children. Even now that Byrony is an adult and an Incomparable, she still regards Lucas as her closest friend–nevermind that he is grossly obese, chronically short of breath, and a figure of fun in society. He remains her kind, dear Lucas, whose generosity is unparalleled. He even rescued their charming, charismatic cousin Stephen from the slums and launched him in society. Then, Lucas vanishes without a trace. . .
Cecily Hadley has had a hard time. Impoverished after her father’s death, estranged from her morally-unacceptable uncle, and chaperoned only by the “dragon”-like Miss Dowie, Cecily has no recourse to support herself but the stage. And the stage is no respectable place for a proper young lady to be! In less than a week, the seemingly dreadful but rather pretty actress is already the rage of the ton. Then, she encounters Robert Ranleigh (of course, the “reigning gallant” of Regency London), who also happens to be a distant relation. Propriety requires that he save her (and their family’s reputation) from disgrace by removing her from her awkward situation at once.
Phoebe Benedict is prepared for a fight when she shows up (with a kitten) at Simon Clare’s doorstep. After all, he was expecting his sister Diana to come and care for his dangerously ill son, Robert. Instead, Phoebe arrives. Simon Clare is known for his temper, and he has been a recluse since he was injured and scarred by an engine upon which he was experimenting. He is also scarred by his past–one that he would hide from the delectable Miss Benedict. Only her skill with Robert persuades Simon to keep Phoebe on.
Mrs. Joanna Merrill is a proud woman: when her husband dies, she is unwilling to throw herself into the care of her older brother. Instead, she works as a governess. When her lecherous employer forces her to flee with pennies in her pocket, she travels across the country to her brother’s house. When she arrives–famished, dirty, and frozen through–at the estate he manages, she learns he’s been dismissed from his post. In his place she finds the new manager, Ned Greaves, and promptly faints at his feet. As for Mr. Greaves, he has bigger problems than a mysterious woman at his doorstep. He is, in fact, Sir Edward Greaves, new owner of the impoverished and ruined estate, operating in disguise to uncover the criminal elements who are inciting locals to violence.
Grace Curtis used to be from the higher-ups, but her father, prior to his death, squandered their wealth, and died in debt. Grace took charge of her life, and went to work for the local baker–first, to work off her family’s debt, then for herself. The old Lord Thomson loves her little cream pastries, and is kind to her…and upon his death, leaves her with a little home to live in, and a difficult charge–take his bastard son in!
Captain Duncan is a prisoner of war, held in the notorious prison at Dartmoor, a privateer on the wrong side of an encouter with a English man-o-war. When Grace goes with Lord Thomson’s solicitor to fetch the man on parole, though, he’s dying, and his final wish is for her to take in one of his men, who will pose as him. Grace looks around her, and chooses the sailing master, Rob Inman.
When Grace Curtis, the daughter of an improvident baronet, inherits nothing but debts, she must make a choice. She can either go into denial about her new poverty as her house falls down around her and the debt collectors pound at her door, or she can accept that she has “slipped.” Not one to enter denial, Grace makes the best choice she can: she sells her father’s manor, settles as many debts as possible, and indentures herself to couple who run a local bakery to settle their enormous bill. Ten years later, at twenty-eight years of age, she has accepted her new station in life. But then, the crotchety Lord Thompson—who has a weakness for Grace’s Quimby Creames and few relatives who treat him as well as she does—leaves her a legacy in his will. A legacy with a big string attached…
The red-headed Maggie McNair has had a rough life in pre-Revolutionary Boston. After her father and then her mother’s deaths, her stepfather (Zeke Preston) has taken over her parents’ business, Black Horse Tavern. The gritty inn is the favorite haunt of a bevy of British soldiers. Some are gentlemen-like, but most are as despicable as her stepfather, who is ready to turn her into a prostitute and works her to the bone in order to break her to his will. Fortunately, Maggie has secrets: She knows the hidden rooms and exits to the tavern, and she becomes the wife of one of the leaders of the Rebel cause–the educated, cultured, and daring Seth Wright. These circumstances make her an invaluable spy, but also put her in grave danger.
Verity Clifford does not look her best when she emerges from the convict hold in the ship’s steerage after the end of the long sea voyage to Jamestown. Unjustly accused of theft, the ex-governess has saved her virtue by trading away almost every scrap of her clothing. When Gray Garnett–a wealthy American plantation owner who has just been jilted by his intended British bride–sees her body so brazenly exposed, he has no doubt about her profession before her deportation.